Leadership in Action : Yielding Accomplished African Women

Diana Wilson, University of Virginia

“The most notable fact that culture imprints on women [and girls] is the sense of our limits. The most important thing one woman can do for another is to illuminate and expand her sense of actual possibilities.”  - Adrienne Rich

A Black girl’s bildungsroman delves into the experiences of racial identity, individual identity and the constant negotiations of her multifaceted status. Black girls are unique entities due to the fact that their development and agency is positioned on the axis of race, class and gender.  Thus, a coming of age story for Black girls should be seen as the simultaneous liminality of one’s psychological development and social development. As historian Dorothy Sterling mentions, “To be a Black woman…. was to live the jeopardy of belonging to the ‘inferior’ sex of an ‘inferior’ race.” For Black girls, the matrix of subjugation that they face in their daily lives is multifaceted and conjoined to their race and gender. These facets include the hyper-sexuality of Black girl throughout history, lower socioeconomic status, lack of education, traditions, patriarchal super structures, etc.

Firstly, the racist patriarchal society we live in, creates symbolic boundaries that are meant to help delineate a women’s power, freedom and agency. Thus, the development of any Black woman is foregrounded by the traditions of the patriarchal racist society she dwells within.  Subsequently, Black woman cannot then have an isolated, internal, and linear development into women because they aren’t afforded the privilege to be seen as human. As Melissa Harris-Perry states:

Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion… it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior. It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room.

The crooked room is more than just a spatial location. It serves as a comparison to the manufactured structure of White hegemonic domination. Black women have been figuratively and literally placed within the margins of society and have been granted no way out.

To combat this hegemonic colonial narrative, Black women must see their intersectional identity as the epitome of humanness.  We must detangle ourselves from negative narratives and images, in order to reclaim our humanity and learn how to resist. I am pushing for Black women to have a continuous reimaging of oneself to unlearn heteronormative ideologies. This personal imaginary allows Black women to contemplate and inculcate these images into reality. Patricia McFadden, prominent African feminist and educator, calls this procedure the “political process of self-retrieval”. If supremacy is a monster that modifies and readjusts as the clock ticks, Black women must craft realistic dreams that should be pertinent to their historical-present. Patricia McFadden sums this up effortlessly by stating, “If we don’t dare, we don’t grow.”

Given my intellectual preparation and Ghanaian American status, I have an interdisciplinary scope of global inequity. There is an impeccable correlation between my outlook, proficiencies and my proclivity for cultural and economic change. Thus, I consistently inquire as to how women can envision a better future. In order to distill the large societal issue of sexism, racism, classism, etc. into a feasible solution I created Yielding Accomplished African Women (Yaa W), named in the spirit and the honor of Yaa Asantewaa: a Ghanaian feminist heroine, chief warrior, and Queen mother. Yaa W. is Ghana’s first finance and technology talent accelerator. Our mission is help college women develop a gender specific professional toolkit to succeed in finance and technology related career fields. The Yaa W. program provides comprehensive certification courses, extensive online training software, and experience with hands-on social impact projects, constructed to ensure every participant masters the fundamental skills requisite for employment at top financial and technology corporations.

According to a report by World Bank, Ghana will be the fastest growing economy in 2018. Still, Ghana’s ability to contend on the global stage depends on her ability to equip both women and men with transferable skills, access, and opportunities in every facet of her socio-economic structure. However, as of today, evidence suggests that 4-12% of students graduate with STEM-related degrees and less than 40% are Ghanaian women (Ghana Statistical Service). Studies conducted by William Baah-Boateng at the University of Ghana revealed a large gender gap due to discrimination and favoritism in the education and labor markets, resulting in wage discrimination and occupational segregation. A recent study proved that the majority of Ghanaian women were generally concentrated in the working poor sector, with jobs in agriculture, domestic workforce, and informal jobs. Yielding Accomplished African Women is making strides to solving this gendered global phenomenon.

Our organization is based off of the Twi word Sankofa. Sankofa is an Ghanaian word that translates to “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind”. And with the help and growth of our program there won't be any GIRL LEFT BEHIND.

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Works Cited

  1. Adegoke, Yinka. “Africa's economic outlook is promising for 2018, but there are clouds on the horizon.” Quartz, Quartz, 14 Jan. 2018, qz.com/1179387/africas-economic-outlook-is-promising-for-2018-but-there-clouds-on-the-horizon/.

  2. Collective, The Combahee River. "A Black Feminist Statement." WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly 42.3-4 (2014): 210-20. Web. 

  3. Harris-Perry, Melissa V. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. Print.

  4. Sterling , Dorothy. We are your sisters: Black women in the 19th Century.New York : W.W. Norton, 1984.Print.

  5. The Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies. "Contemporarity in Africa: Feminist Perspectives on an Alternative Future." Online video clip. YouTube, 17 November 2017. Web.

  6. “Women and Men in Ghana: A Statistical Compendium 2014.” Ghana Statistical Service, Oct. 2014, www.statsghana.gov.gh/docfiles/publications/W&M%202014.pdf.